Antidotes to DC Comics

PrintE-mail Written by P.M. Buchan Friday, 14 October 2011

Adventures on Alternative Earths - by P.M Buchan

This month in preparation for another synapse-skewering instalment of Adventures On Alternate Earths I read a sickening amount of new DC comics before realising that EVERYBODY ON THE INTERNET was talking about the new 52! If all comics are created equal, why should Dan Didio be given a free pass to break the internet in two?!? This month I’ve enlisted the help of friends from around the world to provide you with the ultimate antidote to DC’s headline-hogging selfishness. Strap in tight as we recommend some of our favourite comics and graphic novels with nary a mention of Marvel or DC in sight. Join us as we make musical instruments from animal organs, return from the dead to avenge lovers, lose our virginity and try to become the greatest rock star that ever lived!

To begin proceedings I’m going to recommend Zombo: Can I Eat You Please? Written by Al Ewing, illustrated by Henry Flint and published by the incomparable 2000 AD this book is an ultra-violent, garish peek into some of the most depraved minds working in comics today. For a long time 2000 AD has been a fond memory of my childhood but not something that I felt had a massive relevance to my life today, but Zombo has proven well and truly what an idiot I’ve been. Containing all the exaggerated dystopia, casual violence and irreverence that I remember from my youth, Ewing and Flint have updated everything that was ever good about 2000 AD in this maddening tale of Youtube-generation poser suicide-cults, zombie flesh-eating, killer bees and impeccable manners. Everything about this book screams at your sense and blasts the cobwebs away from your undernourished imagination, with a plot that races and a cast that dies and is replenished on every other page. Forget waiting another month for the next bite-sized instalment of your favourite new DC title, why not try the best that Britain has to offer?

Next up I’m going to invite some guest contributors to recommend what they think you should be spending your money on instead of another DC #1. Please bear in mind that the macabre bent of their recommendations probably says more about the company that I keep than any trend in modern comics!


The Crow

“Officially, in your comic book collection, you should have Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. If you want to go a step further, in art and story, you should really have James O'Barr's The Crow. Eric is a zombie with brains, someone who won't die but still has a purpose in life. Resurrected by a crow, Eric hunts down the people responsible for his fiancée's death. Like in a slasher movie, he takes down her killers, one by one. But even in the end, no matter how hard he tries, nothing will ever bring her back. At its emotional core, this is about a suicidal man who sees himself as a lost cause. There is such a stunning elegance to Barr's brushes, as Eric reminisces about Shelly's death. The Crow is such a classic; it's too bad the sequels can't get it right.”

Jorge Solis is one of America’s best comic journalists and among other things writes for Fangoria. Check out his personal site www.writerwithoutfear.com and tell him that I sent you.



Peepholes

“Over the last few months, it’s been absolute agony waiting for the October release of Laurie J. Proud’s Peepholes collection. Comprised of ten immaculately illustrated short stories, Proud looks into the lives of werewolves attending late night cinema screenings, sideshow performers, lovelorn hit-men, and literal towers of self-pity.

My favourite stories of the bunch are A Hundred Ruined Cities and Night Offices, both kind of Lynchian dream sequences that encapsulate Laurie’s mesmerizing, oblique storytelling in silent snapshots of urban chaos. The word ‘Lynchian’ gets thrown around a lot, but there’s a clear influence here: willingly complex, darkly comic, sometimes baffling but always totally rewarding.

I’ve always been a big fan of one-man anthologies for how they allow creators to showcase their ability, and Proud’s one of those rare unknown guys who blows people away straight out the gate. You need this book in your life!”

Martin Steenton works as a publicist and editor for Blank Slate and blogs independently about comics on http://www.avoidthefuture.com. Between you and me, I might not have invited him to contribute if I’d known in advance how snazzy his website was going to be. Martin seems to know more about alternative comics than I can begin to comprehend!


Unbelievable: The Man Who Ate Daffodils

“On my pull list this month is Unbelievable: The Man Who Ate Daffodils by Simon Wyatt. I’m going to stick my neck out and recommend this before I’ve even had a chance to read it. Wyatt was one of the ten artistic teams who pulled together for the Welsh-themed graphic novel 10thology – for more on that see the review online at Starburst – and based on his skill in tying in the mythology of rugby to egg-hunting cavemen, I’m looking forward to this. Here’s the blurb: ‘The close-knit community of Bryn Boncath has its share of local legends and half believed histories. It has also become the scene of a series of bizarre and mysterious deaths. People are afraid to go into out after dark and sightings of a monstrous beast are on the increase once again. What Ben Ellis took to be the tall tales of his grandfather may be more than just stories.’ By the time you read this, Unbelievable should be available direct from publisher Markosia, Amazon and Diamond, priced £12.99, and my review should be up elsewhere on Starburst.”

Ian Mat, as you might have gathered, writes for Starburst Magazine and can be found mostly in our comics section.




Invincible

“If like me you're still finding the rebooted DC Universe a little complicated then why not try Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley from Image Comics? It condenses all that complicated continuity that the Marvel and DC books are famous for and streamlines it into one book. No multi-issue crossovers here, just a fun read that doesn't take itself too seriously, and which isn't afraid to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous conventions of superhero mythology. The art by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley is also of a consistently high standard, with Ottley really hitting his stride a few volumes in. I recommend the oversized, hardback, ultimate editions, which now run up to volume 7.”

Robert Deas is a UK based comic artist and writer. His past works include Pride and Prejudice and Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth for SelfMadeHero. He also wrote and drew his own series, Spectrum Black for the DFC.




30 Days of Night

“My favourite graphic novels are the 30 Days Of Night series. I love the stories and the artwork! At times it's so gory! The idea of vampires attacking a secluded town without fear of the sun is genius!”


Richard Cooper is the Editor of SCREAM: THE HORROR MAGAZINE, which is published bimonthly in the UK. If you need any reassurances as to SCREAM’s quality then I’ll shamelessly tell you that I write a full-page comic strip for each issue!




Calamity of Challenge

“I first learned of Matthew Allison's work on the Covered Blog, where he applied his carefully energetic style to a number of Silver Age covers and turned them on their heads with anything from restrained social anxiety humour to all-out bloody murder and preposterous body horror. His current project Calamity Of Challenge is a very weird and very funny space-heroes tale following our hideously deformed part-mechanical hero Cankorr as he faces his abrasive team mates, outrageous villains and his own future self. There's high-speed travel on vehicles you wish were a toy when you were a kid, heroes getting hammered on cheap beer and Judas Priest, self-loathing and biting criticisms and some serious space violence and it's my favourite thing going right now. Matt's collected the first volume together and has plenty more mystery and adventure to come. You can try and wrap your head around it at http://loafdish.blogspot.com


Craig Collins is a comic writer from Glasgow; the co-creator of Roachwell and a load of other screwy comics. His comics tend to grow on you, like an unsightly fungus.



Box Office Poison

“One of the main things I love about stories, not just comics, is good dialogue. In comics, most long sections of dialogue come at the cost of having pages and pages of static talking heads. Alex Robinson manages to make Box Office Poison the most animated 600 pages of talking heads you're likely to read, ever. Not only by having the dialogue be lively, interesting and full of character itself, but by matching that up with some really inventive and unique page layouts. Starting the book is quite daunting due to the size, but you soon get sucked in. There are dozens of everyday, human stories to relate with inside and the art's always full of energy. I've always thought it's been criminally underrated. “


Chris Doherty is the creator of Video Nasties, an awesome strip that I’m currently reading with an eye to review for Starburst. I’ve heard him called one of the unsung heroes of the British small press and so far I’m inclined to agree.




Neonomicon

“If I have to recommend one comic book from the current crop then without a doubt it has to be Neonomicon from Avatar Press. Okay, it's by Alan Moore, so you just know it's going to be good before you even read it, but make sure you do all the same. Masterfully channelling Lovecraft (it's rooted in his mythos) and R.W. Chambers, and with splendid artwork from Jacen Burrows, it's everything a modern horror comic should be - and more. Be sure to check out previous series The Courtyard, too, for the full effect.”


Rob Talbot writes the OST column for Starburst, but he also writes alongside me at SCREAM and writes for Italian Film Review and Diabolique Magazine. He’s also right, Neonomicon is everything that an adult horror comic should be. Normally I think Alan Moore is overrated but definitely not in this case.




Elemental Micah

“Michael Georgiou's Elemental Micah is a rare gem amongst small press comics in that it feels somehow far bigger and more ambitious in scope than that tag suggests. When Micah Sampson, a shy teenage shelf stacker, loses his virginity to Simon who works on the fish counter, this unlocks superpowers that Micah never knew he had. A tornado rips through North London, the elemental conditions of which have become directly affected by the ebb and flow of Micah's emotions. Together with Simon, best friend Dana and trusty dog Alfonzo, Micah tries to come to terms with what the point is of having superpowers in a world with no super-villains is and what it could all mean. Elemental Micah, as a result, blends the outlandish fantasy of superhero comics with the bittersweet existentialism of confessional autobiography to create a story that, so far, is one of the most enjoyable, touching and genuinely intriguing I've read for a long time. It feels like the work of a creator who has a clear, original vision; one that's sweet without being mawkish, edgy without being gratuitous and filled to bursting point with surprises and ideas.”


CJ Lines is the author of Filth Kiss (2007) and Cold Mirrors (2011). Elemental Micah is on my to-read list for a future issue of Starburst, so expect to hear more about this comic in future.





Sandcastle

I wholeheartedly recommend the alternative sci-fi graphic novel Sandcastle by the French film director Pierre Oscar Levy and the Swiss artist Frederick Peeters. Yes, SelfMadeHero publish it, I make no apologies for that. We are delighted to bring this story to English readers. It combines the drama of Greek tragedy with the creepy, tense aesthetic of Tarkowsky's Solaris. What starts as a spot of sunbathing on a secluded beach turns into a tense, fantastical nightmare for the sunseekers. The weirdness begins with a woman’s body found floating in the waters, but this quickly escalates until our terrified cast are knee deep in dead bodies, contemplating their imminent deaths with only a science fiction author to help them understand their fate. Perfect.


Doug Wallace is Marketing Director at SelfMadeHero and never fails to make me laugh on Twitter. He wants you to know that Sandcastle will be released on the 11th November 2011.




Nana

“I'm hard pressed to choose between my favourite manga Nana, Ouran High School Host Club or Honey & Clover, but if I had to recommend only one I suppose that it would be Nana by Ai Yazawa. Unique art, sassy fashion and a rock'n'roll story of love, friendships, mistakes and passion. A must-have for any Shojo lover or his/her partner.”


Pam Buchan is pretty awesome and also the long-suffering wife of your favourite Starburst columnist. Having sat through at least 50 episodes of the Nana anime with her I can confirm that Ai Yazawa’s characters will break your heart in the best possible way. We also love the live action movies, the soundtracks, the merchandise…




Judge Dredd Origins

“This is a tough choice. It's like saying which of my kids I love more. I don't have any kids so I'm just speculating here, but the comic book that I'd recommend is 2000AD's Judge Dredd Origins. I was a total stranger to the universe of Mega-City One. I asked an internet friend to recommend a Dredd book to me that's easy to read for a newbie. It was amazing. The intense story and beautiful art unravels the mythology of Judges and justice. It just removes all the bad memories of the 1995 Stallone film. After reading this book, I grabbed as many Dredd stories as I could, but none could reach the brilliance of Origins.”


I literally have no idea who Umar Ditta is but he replied to my public call for comic recommendations. Looks like he’s currently writing a comic called Kung Fu Hobo and he’s going to be attending Thought Bubble so I guess I’ll meet him soon.





The Squirrel Machine

“I'd never heard of Han Rickheit, his DIY Chrome Fetus Comics or his graphic novel Chloe, when this Fantagraphics book arrived in the mail a few years ago. I was floored by The Squirrel Machine's surreal mixture of the beautiful, perverse and grotesque. The writer/artist fills every page with the strange details of his Victorian netherworld, a place in which two woefully misunderstood brothers dream up wondrously disgusting musical instruments made of animal parts – when they're not exploring the physics-defying innards of the old house that they live in, that is. By the time I hit the page with the pigs' heads organ, I knew Rickheit was a mad genius of the highest order.”


Dave Alexander is the Editor-in-Chief of Rue Morgue magazine, as well as a fiction writer, filmmaker and life-long comic book addict. As far as I can tell The Squirrel Machine is the best comic that I’ve never read!



Strange Embrace

“My recommendation is David Hine's excellent Strange Embrace (in lovely hardback from Image). It's a book which has drawn me back for multiple readings, and which never fails to unsettle. Even though I know what's coming. Strange Embrace is a tightly controlled piece of storytelling, loaded with wonderfully disturbing imagery which lingers in the memory, waiting to creep you out all over again when you're not expecting it. I read it again just now, and once again found myself tearing through the whole thing in one upsetting sitting. Dealing with themes of obsession, repression and perversity, this book won't be to everyone's taste. But if you're looking for a book which is simultaneously challenging and engrossing, horrifying and beautiful, I'd highly recommend that you give it a try. Now.”


Dan Lockwood is the editor of The Lovecraft Anthology, Volume 1 from SelfMadeHero. Volume 2 will be published in April 2012. The first anthology was probably the best British horror anthology that I’ve ever read, so my hopes are high for volume 2. It helps that Ben Templesmith will be one of the contributors.


There you have it boys and girls, if you’ve grown tired of hearing about nothing but DC then go and do something about it, support independent publishers and creator-owned comics by trying out one of these recommendations.


On the subject of DC, I won’t be able to sleep at night if I don’t tell you what I thought about the 52 number 1s. For my money Batwoman was the clear winner for best traditional superhero comic and certainly hasn’t suffered from Greg Rucka’s absence yet. Animal Man and Swamp Thing were the best comics of the month, both elevated by the ties that writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire have place between them. There is no way that I can function without receiving these comics on a monthly basis. Demon Knights was pretty good fun and definitely scratches an itch that regular superheroes cannot. Batman and Robin was probably the dullest individual issue of a comic that I’ve read in the past year. Red Hood and the Outlaws was brilliantly illustrated and guilty of a couple of crass innuendos but definitely not worthy of the derision that the internet seems to be subjecting it to. Consider this, what do you think is the worse crime – oversexualising a character in a comic aimed at teenagers, or having a chance to have your work seen by a global audience and turning in a comic as dull as Batman and Robin? Overall I’ve read a lot of comics that I enjoyed this month but not so many that convinced me that they were vital to my life. Supergirl was gorgeously illustrated but in the first issue all that happened was that she landed on earth and fought some people in robot suits. If I can tell a full story in a single page (without getting paid) then DC’s chosen few will need to try a little harder to give me value for money when they have a full comic to entertain. Suicide Squad was fun, as was Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, but so far neither have given me a reason to continue reading.

Overall the experience of reading so many number 1s in short succession has really highlighted how formulaic monthly comics can be and how easy it is for serialised writers to drop the ball. These titles should be able to stand on their own merit, but so many of them relied on nostalgia and familiarity with the existing characters. Nothing else could explain the inherent dullness of titles like Nightwing and Deadman. Even radical new interpretations like Wonder Woman fell flat, because let's face it, Brian Azzarello was never meant to write superheroes. Of all the DC characters Wonder Woman has always been the one with the most unrealised potential, created by William Moulton Marston to advance his theories on bondage, submission and overt eroticism, so it's unfortunate that as always DC have placed the character in the hands of a writer that has shown no inclination towards any of those themes and certainly no great advocacy of feminism. Looking at what a perfect fit Grant Morrison is for the character of Superman in Action Comics I'm hoping that Azzarello will prove to be as suited to Wonder Woman, but I'm not convinced yet.

September has come and gone, so the question will be one of whether DC can maintain their momentum in the coming months. I'm certainly adding Batwoman, Action Comics, Swamp Thing and Animal Man to my Standing Order, probably at the expense of some of the horror comics I'm currently reading, but if they want to really win me over then these new titles must become stories that I need to own in trade paperbacks. Most comic companies don't judge their success that way, but I certainly do. Look to the Scalpeds, Goons and X-Men collections on my shelves to see where my heart lies but go to the comic boxes in my loft if you want to find issues 1 to 3 of series like Haunt that didn't keep my attention.

Whether you've chosen a new graphic novel to read based on our recommendations or you just want to argue about how little I understand about DC, e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or follow me on Twitter @FrancisSobriety. The soundtrack for this column has been provided by echolevel, who has recently done stellar work creating the score to my first short horror film La Belle Dame Sans Merci.


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Other articles in Adventures on Alternative Earths - by P.M Buchan

A Love Letter To Japan 14 November 2011

All Comics Are Created Equal 14 September 2011

X-Men: Road to Schism 14 August 2011

52 First Issues?!? 14 July 2011

Teen Angst, Talking Corpses & Pompous Frogs 14 June 2011

What makes a great comic? 04 May 2011

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